Air Force's opening drive vs. Notre Dame's defense Saturday was a 10-play, 71-yard textbook option march. Six carries to the wide side for 48 yards.; two up the middle for a combined eight -- including a fourth-down conversion; and 20 more to the boundary including a run to pay dirt.
The Falcons looked unstoppable early, gaining 101 yards on 12 first quarter rushes and another 82 to conclude the second half. But those 82 came at the expense of 22 carries with but a field goal to show for it.
The Irish defense first absorbed, then stiffened, then dominated the Falcons thereafter, limiting their hosts to 107 yards on their final 53 carries of the contest. Notre Dame's offense produced 45 of the game's final 48 points and the season's first easy victory for Brian Kelly's squad since it handled Temple 28-6 in the opener was secured.
Just don't tell that to the head coach.
"Winning, as I've always said, difficult in college football," said Kelly. "Playing an offense that (Air Force) Coach (Troy) Calhoun puts together…it's actually amazing what they do offensively, and I use that word as a guy that, I think, knows a little bit about offense. Their scheme is very difficult. And our guys just did a very good job of persevering and finding a way to get through it and finding a win."
According to cornerback and team co-captain Bennett Jackson, an early shot was not unexpected.
"It definitely takes that first long series just to get into a rhythm and feel the tempo out," said Jackson. "The scout team does a great job in practice but it's never really realistic. I think we got it after the first series and that's usually what it takes.
"We had a different scheme and every time we would adjust to their option they'd counter back the opposite way, pre-snap," he continued. "We just started playing regular Cover 2 instead of flipping over and moving around so much because the tempo was throwing us off.
"Obviously we caught onto it...we had better leverage so we just left it like that for the game."
Kelly noted post-game that Air Force would at some point early, rise up and test the Irish road resolve.
"We told our guys Air Force was going to give us a punch at some time and that was in the first quarter when we drove down and had a field goal block and subsequently they scored. That was the challenge to our football team. That something was going to happen early and they would have to respond and they responded very, very well.
"Our defensive plan, they made some adjustments. When they got the ball out on the perimeter, started to make some checks, got our corners involved. I think that was a nice adjustment that we made."
Those corners, Jackson, Keivarae Russell, Lo Wood, Devin Butler, and Cole Luke combined for 22 tackles including 18 after the opening drive, half of which limited the Falcons to gains of negative, 0, 1, or 2 yards. Wood and Russell both recorded tackles-for-loss, the latter added a fumble recovery.
"Once we were able to play some more Cover 2 and roll the corner to the field (side), then we got the game back in control a little better," Kelly said. "Once the ball was able to stay within the defense we were in a much better situation."
They'll likely face another situation this Saturday as Navy prepares for what they saw from the Irish defense in Colorado Springs.
"Navy runs the triple option better than anybody in the country," said Kelly. "I mean, it's what they do. And they have so many variations off of it, just little variations that make a huge difference, splits, the precise-ness of how they run it may not, to the untrained eye, look like much but it's a real big difference."
Kelly added a bottom line for Saturday's in-game strategy:
"They certainly have been running the option longer than we've been defending it. So they'll have some things for us that we'll have to adjust to along the way as well."